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Monday, March 25, 2019

The Second-Goal Parent: A Focus on the Big Picture

The Second-Goal Parent: A Focus on the Big Picture

Excerpted from Positive Sports Parenting by Jim Thompson Balance Sports Publishing, LLC

I have long been a fan of “The Family Circus” comic strip. Perhaps my favorite strip of all time features the family dog barking up a storm in the middle of the night. Dad, irritated that he’s been awakened from a much-needed sleep, clomps down the stairs to yell at Barfy, who dutifully hangs his head. Dad climbs back up the stairs while the cartoonist has a surprise for us. He pans back so we see in the far corner of the yard a burglar retreating. We who see the “Big Picture” know Barfy has protected his family from a burglary. The dad, seeing only the “Little Picture,” is angry at being disturbed. This comic strip can serve as a metaphor for youth sports. Youth coaches and parents are often overwhelmed by so many Little Pictures filled with barking dogs that they miss the Big Picture entirely. How our children do in a sporting event is Little Picture. Whether they win or lose, play well or badly, laugh or whine after the game – all Little Picture. What children take away from youth sports to help them become successful, contributing members of society is the Big Picture. Whether they remain physically active throughout life, learn to bounce back from difficulties with renewed determination, discover how to support other people within a team context – these are the Big Picture.

The Big Picture and You

The Second-Goal Parent is a model of sports parenting that focuses relentlessly on the Big Picture. There are two broad goals in youth sports: striving to win and building character so kids develop into successful, contributing members of society. As important as winning is, Second-Goal Parents let coaches and athletes worry about the first goal of scoreboard results. Second-Goal Parents have a much more important role to play ensuring their children take away from sports lessons that will help them be successful in life. Remember, that is the Big Picture. And attending to this is much more vital than being an extraneous back-seat coach. Now, there is nothing wrong with caring about whether your child’s team wins or loses. Go ahead and care about it! Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with playing catch or shooting baskets or enjoying playing any sport with your child – or even giving pointers when your child asks for them. But the lifelong impact you can have – that no one else can in quite the way you can – is on the life lessons your child takes away from the sports experience. No one can be there for your child in this way better than you. No one. If you embrace your role as a Second-Goal Parent, it will transform the way you see youth sports. It will help you act to seize the teachable moments that will come your way again and again because you are looking for them. What might have seemed like a disappointing loss or a failure by your child becomes an opportunity to reinforce resiliency. A tough competition in forbiddingly hot, cold, or nasty weather can prompt a conversation with your child about learning to enjoy challenges. Whether your child succeeds or fails on the playing field, you will be able to use the experiences to reinforce the kind of person you want him to be.

Honing a Second-Goal Focus

Let’s say your child has just had an opportunity to make the winning play in a game and blew it. If you played the sport (and perhaps even if you didn’t), you may have suggestions for how the child could have made the play. We call this a “First-Goal focus” because it concentrates on helping your child do well on the scoreboard, which the larger sports culture always puts first. My two decades of experience working with sports parents has taught me that First-Goal suggestions from parents are often not well received by their child. Athletes get so much coaching already – from coaches, from teammates, from the game itself. When parents add to this flood of coaching, it often overwhelms the child, like the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Instead of being a back-seat coach, hone a Second-Goal focus with your child. Rather than obsessing about the skills and strategy of the game, engage your child around the life lessons from their experience. For example, on the car ride home after a game, focus on the second goal. Use questions and your own assertions (sparingly).


  • “What did you learn from that experience?”
  • “Why do you think it’s important to learn to bounce back from failure?”
  • “What about the game can you feel good about even though you lost?”


  • “I know in my life that I learn more from my failures than from my successes. In fact, times I’ve been successful have usually come from learning from my mistakes.”
  • “I’m proud of the way you dealt with the pressure during the game. Many people get so afraid under pressure that they don’t give their best effort. You didn’t make the play, but you gave it a good shot!”
  • “Resilience is such an important attribute. I love to see you bounce back after a disappointment.” Back to the Big Picture

The signature act of a Second-Goal Parent is relentlessly keeping one’s eye on the Big Picture. Second-Goal Parents hear the barking dogs but don’t allow themselves to get distracted from their goal of ensuring their children get the most from their youth sports experience. They develop a “muscle” that allows them to focus on the Big Picture even when others are freaking out over a First-Goal issue like an official’s bad call. I know from personal experience how hard this is. My hope for this book is that it will inspire and help you become a Second-Goal Parent with an eye on the Big Picture so your child can have the very best sports experience possible.


  1. Adults in youth sports too often get caught up in the Little Picture (performance on the field) and lose sight of the Big Picture (life lessons learned on the field).
  2. There are two broad goals in youth sports: striving to win and building character so that kids develop into productive, contributing members of society.
  3. Second-Goal Parents let coaches and athletes worry about winning. Parents have a much more important role: focusing on teachable moments and the life lessons that their children can take away from sports.

About the author: Jim Thompson started the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) at Stanford University in 1998 to create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports into a Development Zone® with the goal to develop Better Athletes, Better People. PCA has helped lead a sea change in public awareness that positive coaching is the key to get the best out of youth athletes (everyone, really!) and help them become a Triple-Impact Competitor® who elevates self, teammates, and the game. PCA has 18 Chapters across the U.S. and does more than 3,000 live workshops annually for more than 1,000 youth sports organizations and partnerships with Major League Baseball and the NBA.

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